School board letter discourages free speech among board members

School board letter discourages free speech among board members
July 24 10:07 2019 Print This Article

Lowcountry Source has obtained a letter sent by Charleston School Board Chairman Eric Mack to the other eight board members advising them to not express their individual views about the Charleston County School District (CCSD) with the public. The letter encouraged members to engage in group-think, telling them that “they should be acting in a majority.”

The Mack letter also stated, “Rogue statements and unofficial community meetings not hosted by the district are counterproductive to what we’re trying to accomplish.” The statement is in response to a series of town hall forums organized by board member Kevin Hollinshead to get community input on how to turn around the nine CCSD schools designated by the South Carolina Department of Education as failing, including eight schools in North Charleston. Hollinshead also led a group of community leaders and educators to visit three schools in Atlanta that are using innovative methods to improve student outcomes in high-poverty neighborhoods.

Mack cited three goals for CCSD approved by the school board and advised his colleagues that they should “stand down” and let the district staff accomplish them. One of the goals states, “CCSD students will achieve at or above grade-level readiness expectations in reading and math.” The most recent SC Ready test scores reveal that less than half of all CCSD students in grades 3-8 perform at grade level in English Language Arts (ELA) and math.

At Chicora Elementary School in North Charleston, only 1.2% of 5th graders met the state math standards. At nearby Mary Ford Elementary School, only 2.6% of 4th graders met the state standards in ELA and math. Districtwide, only 11.5% of African-American 7th graders met the state math standards.

The public deserves an explanation for this sub-standard student achievement and learn what strategies are being employed to improve it. School board members who want to have public discussions about plans to improve low-performing schools are unable to get the item on the school board agenda. They have no recourse other than to hold forums outside of the board chambers.